I checked my watch as I stood at the fire exit. Not long now.
Claire had followed me out.
“You hate Kev don’t you?” She said.
“In a way.”
“I can’t say that I blame you, I hate him myself sometimes. Is that why you came home?”
I didn’t answer
“Is Kev the unfinished business you were talking about?”
I moved onto the fire escape and looked out over the school yard. The rain had now stopped but there was still dampness in the air. Claire followed.
“I should have known really. It’s just that somewhere in the back of my mind I’d hoped that it was me that you’d come back for,” said Claire.
“Perhaps you should go.”
“No, I’m sorry. Just promise me that you won’t do anything stupid. Kev’s a dangerous man. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“A little late for that. You should go back inside before he misses you.”
“You’re right,” said Claire, “I just don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want you to disappear again. Promise me you’ll still be here when I get back.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Well at least promise that you’ll be careful. I’ve really missed you Pete.”
“Take care of yourself Claire.”
The rest of the day was hell as Kev made me beg and perform numerous demeaning tasks before they decided to return my footwear. I got it back just in time for detention.
“Nice to see you’ve found your trainer, Wood. Where was it?” said Burns sarcastically.
“Don’t know, Sir.”
“I thought you would have learnt your lesson by now. I want a five hundred word essay on the inside of a ping pong ball before you go home tonight.”
I sat down and got out my pen. I had done this essay a thousand times before and virtually knew it word for word.
“What do you think, Elvis?” said Marie.
“What?” Elvis, his eyes transfixed on the couple in the corner, obviously not listening.
“Pete and Claire. Do you think they’ll get together? That Kevin Davison is a complete bastard, she would be much better off with Pete.”
“God that’s Tracy Lough and John Marriner. She wouldn’t have touched him when they were at school. Now look at them.”
“People change you know. Not everyone obviously, look at us but people do. It’s human nature. Good luck to them.”
“I think Tracy’s turned desperate, worried she’ll be left on the shelf,” said Elvis.
“Listen to the Lady Killer there, since when were you the expert?”
“Yeah, I suppose you’ve got a point. We’re happy though aren’t we?” Elvis took Marie’s hand.” I’m sorry if I went a bit strange when Pete came home. It just brought up a lot of memories, a lot of old feelings. I suppose I went off the rails a bit.”
“Well, if that’s as far as you’re going to stray I suppose I can live with it. It was as much a shock for me to see Pete. He seems like the same person, I still love him to bits but there’s something different, something harder about him.”
“Maybe I should have taken a leaf out of his book. Stood up to a few people a long time ago.”
“I love you the way you are.” Marie kissed Elvis softly on the cheek. “People like Kev will get what’s coming to them eventually. You can bank on it.”
“I already have,” Elvis muttered with a grin on his face as he led Marie to the dance floor. Spandau Ballet were never one of his favourites but it seemed appropriate now. ‘Gold’ played out from the speakers and Elvis thought again about the money in his account.
“Where have you been? Your tea is ruined.” My Mam was furious.
“You’ve been in detention haven’t you?”
“Don’t lie. What have you been in for this time?”
“Nothing, I didn’t do anything.”
This was the truth but I could hardly explain.
“Maybe I should go up to the school then. Find out why my son was in detention when he had done nothing wrong.”
I hoped this was an empty threat because if there was one thing that would give Kev a field day, it would be my Mam coming to the school.
“Go and do your homework.”
“Haven’t got any.”
“What have I just told you about lying? Get your backside upstairs and get your homework done. I want to see it when you’re finished.”
I knew I wasn’t coming downstairs that evening. Kevin Davison had pissed in my bag, ruining all of my exercise books, how was I going to explain that?
“Hi Pete, long time no see.”
I’d just walked back in from the fire escape.
This was definitely a blast from the past.
“How are you? You’re looking well.”
“You as well, you look great.”
Karen Walker barely looked different from when she was at school.
“I’m ok. I’m working in a call centre at Doxford, doing quite well. I’ve got a little boy Cameron, he’s two.”
“Great, I’m really pleased for you.”
I don’t know why but my response was tinged with a little sadness. I think Karen picked up on it.
“I’m not with the father if that’s what you’re thinking, he doesn’t know about Cam. It was a one off, stupid mistake. I didn’t think he deserved to know. Not that I would swap Cam for the world mind. How about you, are you married yet?”
“No, still as hopeless as ever.”
“Still running away then?”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
We were virtually on the same spot as where we had that first kiss.
“It’s only taken me best part of sixteen years to get over it,” she said. “I knew you liked Claire, it was obvious. She’s a nice girl. It’s funny how things work out though isn’t it. Who’d have thought that they would be together now?”
“I have to admit that it came as a bit of a shock,” I said.
“What are you doing now then? You’ve obviously been away for a while. Surely you haven’t been hiding from me for all this time.”
For a moment I thought she was serious. I realised that since I had come home, this had been the first conversation I had entered into without wanting something from the person involved.
“Do you want a drink? Orange squash?”
“Yes please as long as it has vodka in it. You have to promise to come back though.”
I looked over her shoulder to see Bumper and Elvis. Bumper was making the same sign with his thumb and forefinger that he had sixteen years ago. I laughed and went for the drinks. Claire was dancing with Gilbert when I came back from the bar. I smiled over but I think something had changed between us. I returned to Karen and handed her the drink.
“Welcome back, Pete,” she said as she pecked me on the cheek. “Fancy going for a walk?”
I agreed and we headed out of the fire escape. Karen linked my arm and we walked around the perimeter of the school, past the swimming baths and towards the upper school. We talked. We talked about everything. Her career, she was doing very well as an Operations Manager for a Mobile Phone company. I talked briefly about my career, missing out the bits about gangsters and blackmail. She told me about her drunken fling with one of the Directors at a conference, Cameron’s father. I didn’t think any worse of her for it.
She hadn’t been very lucky with her relationships but was getting to like the life of a single mother. I tried to think of a relationship story of my own but couldn’t. I considered lying but it didn’t feel right. Karen smiled and leant in closer to me. Her smile was exactly the same as I remembered. She told me as much as she knew about the people we had gone to school with. We had been in different classes for a lot of subjects but knew a lot of the same people.
“Do you ever think about that night?” she said.
“The Christmas Disco. Have you any idea what you did to me?” She pushed me away and looked me in the eye. “That was my first kiss and you were thinking of somebody else all the time. Imagine what that has done to me.”
I was shocked and tried to mumble an apology. She hit me on the arm.
“I’m joking you idiot. I got over you, eventually. What sort of twisted screw up do you think I am?”
I relaxed again.
“I’ve always been a little jealous of Claire mind, not that I would swap what I have for what she’s got. Is that why you came home, Claire?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I had for a while but now I’m confused. I’m not sure what I want anymore but I don’t think it’s Claire. I came back to finish business, erase some ghosts from the past but everywhere I turn I seem be turning up more.”
“So that’s what I am, a ghost from the past that you want to eliminate?” She faked a shocked look.
“No not at all. It’s been great to see you. This is the first real conversation I’ve had since I have come home. Come on, tell me more about Cam.”
She showed me a photo that she had in her purse. He was the double of his mother and shared the same smile.
“You should come and see him sometime. If you hang about long enough.”
“I’d love to.” I meant it.
We started heading back to the school hall.
“Can I ask you something?” She took my hand in hers.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I don’t know. Just stuff, you know.”
“Not Claire then?”
“No, not at all.”
Karen looked me in the eyes.
Then she kissed me. Her lips were warm and I could taste the orange from the vodka we had just drunk. She stroked the back of my head and I hugged her closer to me. We could hear the music from the hall, it wasn’t Madness but I didn’t care. This was definitely the happiest I had been since I’d come home.
“We’d better get back before anybody misses us.” She gave my hand a squeeze and we walked back without speaking.
When we got back to the party it was in full swing. Nobody appeared to have noticed we were missing, except Elvis, who just smiled as we came back in through the fire escape.
“What are your plans for the rest of the night?” She asked.
“Got to meet up with a few old friends. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t back out of the plan now but I was less sure of my motives.
“Well try and save the last dance for me. I’ll understand if you don’t but here’s my number anyway. Give me a ring sometime. Preferably within the next sixteen years.” She handed me her business card and smiled.
“I promise, the last dance is yours.”
I gave her a peck on the cheek and headed for the door. I had business to attend to.
Another installment of Leg It by Alan Parkinson to follow same time next week.
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